One Saturday afternoon I visited the home of Ancha Sarr, a 16 year old girl with albinism. She told me she had an older and younger sister with albinism. I wanted to see and speak with their mother to find out what it had been like for her to raise her three daughters.
Arriving at the humble two-story home, I was greeted warmly by Ancha and her family: Alagie, the father; Nabiya, the mother; Moudou, the eldest brother, sister Aisha and Adama, Anna, Penda, and Buacarr, the youngest and probably most adorable little boy I met in the Gambia. Adama and Anna, the same pale complexion as Ancha, were her sisters with albinism. It was interesting for me to see the contrast between them and the dark skinned family members. They were a family of two different shades.
Nabiya, a quiet woman with warm, kind eyes and a face that revealed inner strength, obliged me with an interview. Surrounded by family watching TV, reading a book or taking a nap, we sat in the parlour and talked. Little Bubacarr clamoured for some extra attention, trying to
show me his toys.
Nabiya told me she had lived in Talinding since 1998 and worked as a cook at a nearby nursery school. She had attended St. Theresa’s school and after graduating at the age of 18, married. She never attended college.
Adama’s albinism was a surprise. After having given birth, the first thing Nabiya noticed was Adama’s white hair. She recalls, “I look at the child and think, what kind of kid do I have?” The doctor told her that the baby was an albino. It was a shock for her because there had been no relatives with albinism and her first two children were born without albinism. It did not take her long to accept her daughter; the colour was different but she was the child God had given her. When the next two births were daughters with albinism, she accepted that perhaps she would continue having children with albinism, but that did not happen.
Having little prior knowledge about albinism, Nabiya leaned from a doctor how to take care of her children. Her children’s skin is susceptible to sunburn, so she gets sunscreen wherever she can. Her husband, working in a hotel, collected unused sunscreen from European guests sympathetic to his daughters’ needs.
Other people, ignorant about albinism, would comment about her and her daughters. As a young mother, people would watch her walking with the girls and comment that they were Toubabs (Caucasian) and that perhaps Nabiya had married a white man. However, this did not bother her because she loved her children and her family accepted them as they were.
She told me that like any mother, she worries about her daughters. She worries about whether they will be able to have an education. She is concerned by the black sports that form on their delicate skin due to sunburns. However, she has the faith to know that God will take care of them.
Because their albinism makes like more difficult, Nabiya advises her daughters to study hard in school. She encourages them to overcome their challenges and not let them be an excuse for failure. It is evident they have heeded her advice because they all are at the top of their classes.
When I asked what advice she had for other mothers of children with albinism, she replied, “Just care for them, love them and respect them…you never know how great they can be.” She continued, “I want the whole world to know that albinism is nothing wrong…[people with albinism] are just human beings…let people love them and help them.
After our interview, I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with the family. Anna and Penda were enthusiastic to show me their bedrooms and stuffed animals. Alagie, always encouraging his daughters to read, showed me the collection of twenty or so books he had collected from tourists when he was working at the hotel.
As the sun was setting, I spent some time on the rooftop with the family. It had rained that afternoon and there was a beautiful rainbow. Anna was pointing out the different colours to Penda. Seeing these two beautiful girls, two different colours and united together with such love, made me think about the divisions of our world. How this could all change if we could disregard differences and demonstrate the same love shown by this family.
Story and Photos by Justin Anantawan